By Anote Ajeluorou
When Lagos City Chorale (LCC) music group won three gold medals at the second European International Choir Olympics held in Magdeburg, Germany last month, not many knew about the feat. But performing before an enthusiastic home audience last night at Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, was enough to silence many a doubting Thomas.
It was a celebratory concert that had Chief Emeka Anyaoku as special guest of honour. Chief Earnest Shonekan was among the dignitaries that graced the special celebratory concert.
The performances showed how gifted the group, led by Sir. Emeka Nwokedi, was both in their performance of African chorale repertoire and European classical music.
First, Tony Ajero began to tell the story with the song, ‘Oni dodo oni moi moi, accompanied with piano rendition, on how the group came into being since 1998, with the group triumphing in Germany with the three gold medals it recently won.
The choir, in their resplendent outfit that stood them out, then filed in spotting Igbo traditional pieces. A multi-coloured tunic over black trousers and tapering red and white cap for the men, and white lace blouse over a sparkling wine-colonoured wrapper, brown head tie and traditional neck beads completed the costume for the women. Nwokedi introduced the first performance piece ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ by William Runyan and said it was in gratitude to God for what He’s done for the group over the years.
‘I was glad’ from Psalm 122 came after it and they both followed the traditional church choir pattern although great passion was invested in the rendition. Towards the end, ‘I was glad’ steadily rose to a rousing crescendo that filled the hall. But it was ‘Halleluyah Praise ye the Lord’ by Louis Lewandowski that explored the full range of the vocal power of Lagos City Chorale group. From its rising and falling modulation of their voices, it transported the audience to a point of pure musical enjoyment. The unique arrangement of the song allowed for multiple voices in different cadences flowing in and out of the dominant note in such harmonic blend.
From church choir music, the group took on traditional tunes and ‘Ma Ndi na-ele anya Jehova’ composed by Sam Ojukwu was performed. It started in a steady note through to the middle but towards the end when it got to the point of ogejiye, dance was added, a bodily motion in response to the moving song, and it became really engaging. Also, the tonality of African languages deepened the song’s timbre and greatly lent weight to it. A lady singer who moves forward to enhance the rhythmic dance further accentuates this.
Then came ‘Alleluia Chim lee’, another Igbo song, arranged by Chinedu Osinigwe and performed in easy pace. But “Messiah Baba Mi’, a Yoruba piece by Ayo Oluranti alternated in moods. First from the seemingly mournful, subdued tone, and it eventually rose to a melodious, harmonious crescendo that was extremely pleasing. A piece from Akwa Ibom ‘Ya Ikom Abasi’ on praising the Lord also came in church choir pace; so, too, ‘Agidigba ka Chineke di’, that spoke of the majesty of God.
But the ‘Rendition by 2 Tenors’ rendered in Italian hit the audience like pleasurable musical thunder bolts. The dexterity and command of the Italian tones by the duo of Fred Asuquo and Benson Utomi were exceptional. In fact, their performance of ‘La donna e mobile’ by Giusseppe Verdi was strongly reminiscent of the great Italian composer, the late Luciano Pavarotti, singer of modern times in its depth of vocalisation, cadence of tone and the seductive joy of music.
It signalled a crossover temper from traditional church choir music to classical, European music. The sheer theatrics of Utomi and Asuquo in giving life to the performance, the give and take reciprocity of the lyrics greatly endeared it to the audience. So much so that even when a majority of the audience didn’t understand a single Italian in the song, the song claimed the biggest applause from it, as a reward for the sheer performance skill of the duo. Indeed, the foreignness of the language made it the more endearing and enchanting, as it seemed to transport the audience to celestial places. The duo also showed talent in the second song ‘O sole mio – E di capua’, also by Verdi.
Ajero introduced Special Guest of Honour for the evening Chief Anyaoku, as epitomising the excellence and quality Nigeria ought to be as a country and connected it to the excellence that Lagos City Chorale has brought in terms of laurels.
Anyaoku commended the group for its quality and said: “I have been a fan of LCC. In this city, there are not too many cultural events like this one for people to enjoy. We are here to congratulate LCC for the tremendous achievements they have brought. Every news accentuates the negative things about Nigeria; stories told about Nigeria abroad are not always flattering. LCC’s story gratifies about Nigeria. They have won many accolades all over the world. What better story can there be about our country?
“LCC gave us pride and honour. We congratulate them and Emeka for inspiring LCC since 1998. You have achieved a great deal. I don’t know why government has not accorded LCC the recognition it deserves. Those in authority should recognise how much glory LCC has won for Nigeria abroad. They have been to the U.S., China flying the colours of Nigeria with such pride. They have earned us admiration and pride from all over the world.”
The former Commonwealth Secretary-General also praised the group for sticking to traditional Nigerian costume, saying: “Not just the music, but their attires are aspects I’m sure those at the festival admired.” He also commended the duo of Utomi and Asuquo for being more Italian than Italians in their rendition, describing them as “black versions of Italians.”